The 100th anniversary of Zolta'n Koda'ly's birth will be celebrated on Dec. 16 (he had the same birthday as Beethoven), and a few inklings have begun to appear in our concert life: a suite of dances on a National Symphony program that also took care of anniversaries for Haydn and Szymanowski; a few songs performed at the National Academy of Sciences; and eventually, we may hope, at least one of his excellent string quartets and perhaps the spectacular suite from his opera, "Ha'ry Ja'nos."
It is unlikely that during this centennial year we will hear a concert more lovingly prepared or fully representative of his genius than the all-Koda'ly program given last night in St. Vincent's Chapel at Catholic University. He is overshadowed in our awareness by his more spectacular friend and colleague Be'la Barto'k, whose recorded works fill a page and a half in the Schwann Record and Tape Guide, while Koda'ly is allotted only a bit more than two inches. It is a pity, not because Barto'k deserves less, but because Koda'ly deserves more. I have never heard a work from his pen that was not well-made and communicative; some of his pieces are slight, but none is easy to forget. He is one of those 20th-century figures from Central and Eastern Europe (Jana'cek, Martinu and Szymanowski are others) who are not exactly forgotten but who receive insufficient attention precisely because their work was so individual; they belong to no school and lack a clamorous band of disciples to proclaim their genius.
Koda'ly has at least one disciple in Washington: pianist Be'la Bo szo rme'nyi-Nagy, a member of the faculty of the Catholic University School of Music who organized last night's concert, spoke briefly about Koda'ly, his friend and teacher, and gave a remarkable performance of some of his piano music. The program also included Koda'ly's dazzling Sonata for unaccompanied cello, Op. 8, six of his arrangements of Hungarian folk songs and his "Missa Brevis (Tempore Belli)," which was composed in 1944 and distills the anguish of World War II together with the ecstatic hope of a believer. The performances, by students and faculty members of the School of Music, had in common a dedication to the music and its communication rather than empty display of technical proficiency. It was precisely the right approach for such an occasion, and I think Koda'ly would have been pleased by it, as the audience certainly was.
The most spectacular work of the evening was Bo szo rme'nyi-Nagy's performance of the piano version of the Dances from Marossze'k. These dances are moderately familiar in an orchestral arrangement that usually sounds quaint, colorful and charming. They were strikingly different in style and impact last night on the piano -- and, given the pianist's background, we must assume that the performance was as authentic as it was exciting. It was a performance of stark contrasts, with accents that were vivid and dramatic. Tempos ranged from deep brooding to wild frenzy, and they varied from moment to moment like a human pulse. It was much more serious music than the orchestral version: a small tone poem, an elegy for a lost way of life.
The Mass (with its brooding on the Latin word for "Peace") was also striking in its performance by the University's A Cappella Choir -- very clear in diction, rich and well-varied in tone. Excellent solo work was done by mezzo-soprano Jennifer Muller, tenor Harry Dunstan and bass Roy Polson, who also stood out among the choral singers. Soprano Katherine Hansel was vivid and poignant in a selection of Hungarian Folksongs (sung in English) with Bo szo rme'nyi-Nagy at the keyboard. Cellist Robert Park, a graduate student, played the Op. 8 Sonata in a style that will undoubtedly acquire more technical polish in the years ahead but already communicates the music eloquently.